Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presence at President Joe Biden’s inauguration did more than signal his support of Biden after a hard-fought 2020 presidential campaign. It proved that while Biden may have triumphed as the “relatable Everyman” from coast to coast, Bernie remains the “relatable Everyman” of the internet.
Clad in a bulky brown overcoat (immortalized in the “I Am Once Again Asking You” campaign video), Bernie spawned memes that proliferated across social media throughout Inauguration Day. He did so purely by showing up and being himself — looking kinda cranky, dressed-down, tired, and world-weary.
Basically, he encapsulated many Americans’ moods after the cascading horrors of 2020 and the first few weeks of 2021.
Bernie dressed like the inauguration is on his to do list today but ain’t his whole day. pic.twitter.com/wCRyoxU3V2— Reeezy (@MsReeezy) January 20, 2021
Particularly compelling to meme-makers was one photo of Sanders sitting huddled on his socially distanced chair at Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, looking like he’d claimed his spot and was ready to tailgate for the foreseeable future.
Got a terrific spot at Tanglewood, not budging pic.twitter.com/yPCGhI25pY— Paul Grellong (@paulgrellong) January 20, 2021
(Tanglewood is a famous Massachusetts performing arts venue and festival, a favorite destination of classical music lovers and other arty types.)
Sanders’s pandemic-appropriate isolation, his patterned brown mittens, and his vaguely dissatisfied “old man yells at capitalism” expression — only partially visible above his surgical mask — combined to produce the meme of the day. Bernie sitting in his chair quickly came to stand in for the audience watching along at home.
How I wish I dress: How I actually dress: pic.twitter.com/8lAA8X7u78— jorden (@jordeeeeeen) January 20, 2021
How I feel holding down the booth at the busy bar when all my friends are late. pic.twitter.com/X6JPdMC3qK— Berrak Sarıkaya (@BerrakBiz) January 20, 2021
“This could’ve been an email” pic.twitter.com/kn68z6eDhY— Ashley K. (@AshleyKSmalls) January 20, 2021
Look, Sanders is a vocal progressive in comfortable clothing who’s fed up with centrist politics — just like so many of the people who tuned in to see Biden take the oath of office and become America’s 46th president. That same relatability had previously been a huge asset during the 2020 Democratic primary, when Sanders’s campaign resonated deeply with large communities of left-wing viewers.
Something about the image of Sanders earnestly asking for votes, Notting Hill-style, while clad in unassuming, unpretentious earth tones made the resulting “I am once again asking you” meme a hit with millennials, Gen Z-ers, and Extremely Online people across the political spectrum. Even if you didn’t agree with his politics, it was easy to relate to the sense of world-weariness he seemed to emanate, as he once again asked us for everything from beer to belly scratches.
By the time the primaries had concluded and Sanders was no longer on the campaign trail, he had started using the meme himself.
I am once again asking you to wear a mask.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 24, 2020
And after all the earlier hoopla around the last Bernie-wearing-coat meme, That Coat immediately turned heads when he showed up wearing it to Biden’s inauguration. So it was perhaps unsurprising that new memes began to emerge right away.
BERNIE: what should i wear for the inauguration— everett byram (@rad_milk) January 20, 2021
WIFE: how about that jacket you wore for the meme
BERNIE: ok pic.twitter.com/NgJW0quBqU
I have dedicated significant time to researching this, and must inform everyone that the Senator owns at minimum 3 whole coats. pic.twitter.com/TERPL2BInS— semi-pro woolgatherer (@earational) January 20, 2021
One eye-opening aspect of the Bernie inauguration memes was how clearly many of the meme-makers revealed their East Coast liberal or leftist roots.
In Jewish yoga this pose is: waiting for my wife at Loehmann's pic.twitter.com/Qik7wsZ0ad— Chandra Steele (@ChanSteele) January 20, 2021
Then again, Sanders is an East Coast democratic socialist, and the memes he spawns wouldn’t be as successful if we couldn’t picture him actually riding the subway, shopping at the local department store, or waiting on line.
Bernie dressed to stand on line at the post office. pic.twitter.com/tVgFQisnWy— Clare Malone (@ClareMalone) January 20, 2021
The inauguration came just two weeks after the surreal, terrifying January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the memes seemed to project that Sanders wasn’t there to celebrate in a difficult moment, but to get the ritual over with and get back to work.
Just as they did throughout 2020, Bernie memes provided an Inauguration Day entry point for many Americans into a fraught political moment. There may be an extraordinary amount of uncertainty and anxiety around the near future, but Bernie and his reliable overcoat offer some much-needed familiarity, reassurance, and warmth (pun intended).
In other words, Bernie is once again asking us to relate to him. And once again, America’s Extremely Online citizens have answered the call.